Here’s an old post for my new friends. I wrote this in December, when I had only been on social media for a few months. I was overwhelmed and confused and scared for humanity. I’m still all those things, but not quite as much. Progress, right?
So here it is–the list of wisdoms I’ve gleaned from social media:
1. I had no idea how much I missed a couple of people from my past until I re-connected with them.
2. The most delicious of all the features across all platforms: you can be friends with someone without following them. Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean I want to see or hear a single thing you do or say. Which, let’s face it, would be a pretty cool feature in real life too.
3. Social media messes with the natural evolution that’s supposed to happen in your life. Sometimes people are taken out of your life for a reason–it can be a beautiful gift, but it’s very hard to receive it now. No more survival of the fittest. Now every last slobbering, sweaty, unfit remnant of your entire life survives—and posts pictures of its survival for you to enjoy.
4. All the Facebook-inspired remembering has made me nostalgic for the younger me in the most romanticized and saccharine ways. The other day I saw a picture of someone that reminded me of my 19th birthday party—of driving down a dark, country road in a perfectly skin-tight dress: spaghetti straps falling off my shoulders, a best friend in the driver’s seat, windows down, music up, Big Gulp full of booze, and the most wonderful freedom blowing through the car along with all that dense July air.See what I mean? Nostalgia (like a Facebook page) can be a slippery thing because even if it doesn’t distort the image, it gets the cropping all wrong. It’s true that I felt a kind of freedom that night that you can only feel when you’re young, but it’s also true that what’s missing from the frame are all of the other nights that were fraught with the kind of fear and pain that you can only feel when you’re young. Images and memories are malleable depending on their context, and I have to keep reminding myself of that while on social media.
5. I crave clean, closed systems of measuring my worth, and that’s what makes this whole circus so dangerous for me. It makes me believe that I can quantify the unquantifiable. I can determine my worth (and that of my writing) with a mathematical calculation:
Number of likes + number of comments / number of people reached — number of unlikes X the square root of CRAZY.
That is my worth—is my writing’s worth—is my sum total.
6. But here’s what the math misses:
- A private message that says, “Thank you for sharing yourself with the world in such a vulnerable way.”
- The fear that I tell to shut up before clicking “publish.”
- Someone taking the time to promote me without expecting anything in return.
- All the things that I figure out about myself in the course of writing a blog post and then sending out into the world to do whatever it is that it’s supposed to do.
7. Some people are beautiful and brave.8. While the internet as a whole has been shortening my attention span for quite some time, social media has made it considerably worse. There’s something different about having it all streamlined into one feed, knowing that you’re just one flick of the thumb away from the next thing you need to see. Knowing that if you don’t skim the article on how one woman reaches her autistic son with music, then you might have to live the rest of your life without ever having read “Scott Disick’s Latest Kardashian Joke Is Epic.”
9. People are lonely and desperate for more connection.
10. I will never change my profile picture to “show solidarity” for the tragic event of the moment. I’m too good at convincing myself that I’ve done something when I haven’t. Too excited to show people all around me how much I care. Didja see me just now click the thing and do all the caring? We tell ourselves self-soothing stories all the time in small, insidious ways, often without realizing it.
Someone said that like any gesture–waving at someone from across the street, shaking someone’s hand–changing one’s profile picture is not intended to replace the real work that needs to be done. But the problem is that I think for many people it does just that. I think that in the face of such enormous powerlessness, it makes total sense for us to grope around for ways to make ourselves feel better. But maybe we shouldn’t feel better. Maybe we need to feel the full weight of our terror without the comfort of making a gesture, which is sometimes more for the person making it than for its intended recipient.
11. There is some really beautiful writing out there that I would have missed without social media.
12. Beginnings are always scary and will likely never kill me.